This week, sexual expression has taken a serious hit after Google abruptly decided to banish adult content from one of the globe’s most popular hosting platforms, Blogger. From next month, all blogs containing “sexually explicit” imagery on the Google-owned site will effectively disappear from view when engineers limit entry to an invitation-only system. That means so-called 'adult' blogs will no longer appear in searches, and will be virtually impossible to find.
Google has defended the move by arguing there will be a few exceptions to the rule, and that no information is actually being deleted – just hidden from public view. Yet to many it appears that this is nothing but a blanket ban that is passing unfair judgment on sexual honesty. It’s also a little prudish and preachy, shouldn’t adult users be able to make up their own minds on what they want to click on?
Let’s think about it: what exactly does “explicit” mean? This ban lets Google decide that for us. There are millions of mini-sites on Blogger, covering pretty much every topic under the sun. And whilst there’s probably some outrageous pornographic material on the site that very well may merit some degree of viewer restriction, there are also thousands of fascinating, informative and entertaining blogs that are about to vanish from the public domain just because users have chosen to illustrate a single post with some form of sexual content. Do those blogs truly deserve to be dismissed as smut, and rendered invisible Google categorises LGBT diaries and erotic book reviewers as adult. This is not about illegal content, but simply content Google doesn't like.
Take the phenomenally successful sex diary site, Girl with a One Track Mind. In 2004, author Zoe Margolis joined Blogger anonymously, to chronicle the ins and outs of her dating and sex life. Her blog was born from a desire to counter what she perceived to be a sexist double-standard in the media, that chastised women for expressing their sexual desires. It was a huge hit, in part because of the blunt and refreshingly honest account of female sexuality it offered. A certain degree of anatomical detail ensured the site was tossed into Blogger’s ‘adult’ category. But now, her blog could end up being swept under Google’s new PC rug just because it tackles real sex head on.
Award-winning sex columnist Violet Blue reckons her 14-year-old Blogger site will take quite a beating, too. Her unforgivably erotic blog doesn't just cover topics about pornography, but a wide variety of little-known bedroom facts some may find crucial – for example, consumer warnings about unsafe sex toys. Once Google’s new explicit content policy cloaks her explicitly-illustrated blog under a veil of privacy, some 500 links to her site will be killed off in an instant, concealing vital resources for those in search of serious answers.
It’s difficult to justify that sort of censorship. It’s safe to assume this shift in moral policy was created to minimise Google’s chances of exposing its younger users to explicit materials. The company has been moving in that direction for the past year or so, banning porn from its ad networks and ensuring that users are unable to monetise adult-oriented blogs. Fair enough, you might think.
But let’s not forget: Google is now practically synonymous with the web. You don’t ‘search for it’, you Google it. So, for many, trolling for porn on a lonely Tuesday night probably starts on Google. That’s not because it’s a specially-crafted porn oasis, but simply because it’s the most popular search engine online. Yet for all that debauchery, the company’s brand value hasn’t been tarnished a smidge. So, if there’s no damage being caused by showcasing explicit materials, what’s the point of censoring them on a single platform like Blogger?
Pornography is just one of infinite forms of sexual expression. So, Google doesn’t want to be associated with porn – we get it. Yet Blogger was built around the idea that information should be freely accessible in order to stimulate healthy debate. What happened to that?
Millions of users have spent the better part of a decade working to construct an extensive community on Blogger that offers a digital, sex-positive network of support. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s art, advice or strange pornography that most of us don’t quite get. This is a sexual cull that goes against everything Blogger, Google, and the internet stands for.
Google may like to tote itself as a champion of technological progress – but there’s nothing progressive about censorship. If anything, the company has just pushed us backwards.
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